Welcome once again to Out of the Past. The column dedicated to dead people, well, mostly. Actually, this week's column is, sadly, dedicated to a man who is deceased. This week I'm writing about one of my favorite movie stars of all time. As by the pictures on this page, I assume you know that I'm talking about Gregory Peck. Gregory Peck was never quite the Stewart, Wayne or Grant as far as stature goes, but I don't think there's ever been more of a classy person in movie history.
I remember seeing Jack Lemmon talk about Peck in a biography I taped a few years ago. When Peck won his one and only Oscar for To Kill a Mockingbird, Lemmon was also nominated for his film, The Days of Wine and Roses. Upon Gregory Peck hearing his name called for the Oscar he made his way to accept the award. On his way down, Peck stopped and put his hand on Lemmon's shoulder. In a moment of his ultimate glory Greg Peck stopped and thought of the feelings of one of his fellow nominees. It's that kind of integrity and humility that Gregory couldn't help but bring to the screen. He starred in many great movies, but I've selected a few that standout to me. So, here you have it, the guide to the ultimate gentleman, Gregory Peck -
Twelve O'Clock High
This, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is said to include Peck's best acting. In this WWII drama, Peck plays a commanding officer over naval fighter pilots. He's sent in to fix a broken squad that is being run down from battle fatigue. In this film, Peck really for the first time sets himself on the level of the major actors of the day. He went from being a newcomer to an Academy Award caliber actor. I enjoy some of his later works more, but this is no doubt an essential Peck film. Not only because it was a landmark in his career, but Gregory does give a very strong performance. This is the first film I would say Peck was a man in. In earlier films such as The Keys of the Kingdom and Spellbound, Peck was a person coming into his own. In Twelve O'Clock High there's no doubt that Peck has grown into a dominate male actor.
In almost a reverse Jimmy Stewart, Peck in The Gunfighter plays a character older than he was in real life. Peck's character of Jimmy Ringo never has a defined age, but I would guess the idea was to have the character's age to be about 50. Gregory Peck was around 35 when The Gunfighter was released. Why the age difference is worth noting is that Jimmy Ringo is a weathered man. He's a famous gunfighter that has started to dread the life he has. Imagine Ringo as a serious version of the Waco Kid (what movie is that from?). At 35, Peck was still a relatively young man. To be able to pull off a character as well as Peck does that is not only older, but one tired from life, is a pretty impressive achievement. The movie itself is a classic western. The Gunfighter is up there with any of the Ford/Wayne or Stewart/Mann westerns of the 1950's. Outside of Peck's career, the movie doesn't get much attention. I promise, it's deserves it.
For those of you who haven't seen the Martin Scorsese remake, I will lay out the story. Peck plays a small town lawyer who got involved in a battery case that led to a man to going to prison for several years. When that man (Robert Mitchum) gets out of jail he proceeds to terrorize Peck and his family. The original Cape Fear belongs mostly to Mitchum. Looking over his career, there's no doubt the role of the ex-con set on revenge in Cape Fear was by far the best performance of his career. Yet, the reason I list this as a quintessential Gregory Peck movie is that the character Peck plays is the archetype of what Peck was known as. Peck in Cape Fear is a moral and honest man. He's a loving husband and father. That's who Gregory Peck, the movie star, was.
This is my "hidden treasure" of the bunch. The rest of the films listed would be on any highlight for Peck. The Bravados is a western (shocking, right?) that was made in the late 1950's. It's a story of a man who chases down who he believes killed his wife and baby. If you're a fan of 1950's westerns as I am, this is a very fun movie. There's no attempt at greatness here. It's simply an entertaining western. Like most male stars of the day, Peck made a lot of westerns. I would say The Bravados is the most enjoyable out of Peck attempts at the genre. Imagine Man on Fire, but 1950's style.
The Guns of Navarone
The Guns of Navarone would be kind of in the vein of The Bridge on the River Kwai. It's an ensemble cast that along with Peck includes David Niven and Anthony Quinn. The story is that a group of military "experts" that are sent to blow up huge cannons on the German occupied island of Navarone in WWII. If I were to make a list of the most entertaining movies ever (another column idea?), The Guns of Navarone might be on it. It's an action/war/adventure movie that's serious, but a lot of fun. The Gun of Navarone isn't quite as classic as The Bridge on the River Kwai, but it's defiantly in it's league. For all of you who are sick seeing Will Smith waste his talent and Jerry Bruckheimer pollute film, go rent The Guns of Navarone. This is how action movies should be made!
Classic movie from a classic novel! We all know the story of The Yearling, but just in case, I'll clue you in. The Yearling is about a little boy that takes in an orphaned fawn. The boy sleeps, eats and breaths his pet, but eventually the deer gets to eating his family's crops. With the boy's dad (Peck) injured, the boy must protect the livelihood of his family. In short, the deer has to die. The little boy, played be Claude Jarman Jr., will always be what is remembered from the movie considering it's the boy's story. However, Gregory Peck is very charming in The Yearling. All Gregory Peck's does is love his child. It's a minimal performance, but I don't know if there's ever been a man who could play a loving father as well as Gregory Peck. With that said.....
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is simply one of the greatest movies ever made. Along with that, it's far and away the best movie of Gregory Peck's career and his finest performance. To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a small town lawyer and his children. We follow Peck as he tries to guide his children with light through a dark world. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is one of the most endearing characters in movie history. He's a man of peace and intellect. The most memorable scene for most is when Atticus leaves a courtroom and all of the black people stand up as he walks out of a room having lost a case due to racism. My favorite scene is a little less known. After losing the case, Atticus goes to the family of his client. Upon leaving he is spit in the face by a man who doesn't agree with his choice to defend a black man. Atticus takes a step towards the man as if to fight back, but in calm reserve, he wipes off his face, and goes on his way. Atticus Finch had too much integrity to be brought down to the level of a racist. If there's one word that is resounding throughout Peck's film career and characters it's integrity.
These are just a few selections I chose to write about. Peck starred in many other great movies such as Roman Holiday, Spellbound, On the Beach and many others. He was a great movie star and from all accounts, a great man as well. I hope some of you check out some of his great work! That's it for this week! Next week Out of the Past will include the second "versus" column I will have written. I'm comparing two movies that are as classic and cool as can be! Next week I will give you The Sting vs. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!
In the mean time, go rent a little movie named About Adam, starring Kate Hudson and Stuart Townsend. Great hidden gem!
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Discussing classic films from City Lights to Apocalypse
Now and everything in between and beyond.
Andy is a life long movie fanatic. The first movie he saw in the theater was Back to the Future, Part 2 at the age of 3 and he has loved movies ever since.|
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